“Sell What We Do”: The Manufactured Crisis to Hide the Story Being Sold

The Origin Story for the “science of reading” movement is popularly associated with a story published by Emily Hanford from 2018. And that movement has gained even more momentum by Hanford’s repackaging that initial (and deeply misleading) story as a podcast, Sold a Story.

The dirty little secret is that this story is not about the ugly underbelly of teaching reading or about creating a new and better way to teach reading. This story is cover for the selling of a different story to feast on the profitable education marketplace.

The single-minded blame-game in Sold a Story that creates reading Super Villains in the form of reading theory (balanced literacy) and reading leaders (Lucy Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell) is a tired and very old media and political strategy.

However the real Monster in the larger story is the marketplace itself, and the conveniently ignored backstory is several years before 2018.

The “science of reading” misleading and oversimplified story [1] about the teaching of reading spoke into a context that was fertile ground for misinformation to not only sprout but thrive—the dyslexia movement, specifically the Decoding Dyslexia structure [2] that was already in place in all 50 states.

Here is an interesting and revealing artifact from 2014:

At its July 1st meeting, the IDA Board of Directors made a landmark decision designed to help market our approach to reading instruction.  The board chose a name that would encompass all approaches to reading instruction that conform to IDA’s Knowledge and Practice Standards. That name is “Structured Literacy.”…

If we want school districts to adopt our approach, we need a name that brings together our successes. We need one name that refers to the many programs that teach reading in the same way. A name is the first and essential step to building a brand….

The term “Structured Literacy” is not designed to replace Orton Gillingham, Multi-Sensory, or other terms in common use. It is an umbrella term designed to describe all of the programs that teach reading in essentially the same way. In our marketing, this term will help us simplify our message and connect our successes. “Structured Literacy” will help us sell what we do so well.

Structured Literacy: A New Term to Unify Us and Sell What We Do

“If we want school districts to adopt our approach,” well, we need to clear space in the reading program marketplace, and that is exactly what the “science of reading” movement is doing with the help of media and complicit parents and political leaders.

Again, the goal announced in 2014: “‘Structured Literacy’ will help us sell what we do so well.”

The many recurring Reading Wars have been driven by people who are sincere and people with ulterior motives—and this “science of reading” movement is no different.

For those with good intentions, that simply is not enough if we are unwilling to confront all the stories being sold as well as the costs of these market wars to effective teaching and the most important outcome of all—students who are eager and critical readers.

Sold a Story is a cover for another story being sold and packaged, literally, and the attacks are designed to clear market space, not support teachers or address individual student needs.

[1] Media Coverage of SOR [access materials HERE]

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255–S266. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.353

MacPhee, D., Handsfield, L.J., & Paugh, P. (2021). Conflict or conversation? Media portrayals of the science of reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S145-S155. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.384

Cryonics Phonics: Inequality’s Little Helper – New Politics

The Science of Reading and the Media: Is Reporting Biased?, Maren Aukerman, The University of Calgary

The Science of Reading and the Media: Does the Media Draw on High-Quality Reading Research?, Maren Aukerman

The Science of Reading and the Media: How Do Current Reporting Patterns Cause Damage?, Maren Aukerman

Making sense of reading’s forever wars, Leah Durán and Michiko Hikida

[2] The Hidden Push for Phonics Legislation, Richard L. Allington, University of Tennessee


Education Week Finds Corporate Pals to Spread a Message, Susan Ohanian

Connecting Big Business with The Science of Reading: Replacing Teachers and Public Schools with Tech, Nancy Bailey